The Titans defeated the Green Bay Packers at home on Sunday by a score of 47-25, a win that ranks up some of their best of the last 5 years. Tennessee simply dominated in all facets of the game, and it never felt like it was remotely close. The defense did a nice job of shutting down the Packers run game and forced Green Bay to pass the ball on nearly every down, which even with an Aaron Rodgers-led offense is never a recipe for success in the NFL. My biggest takeaway from the game, though, was the improved play of the most important player on the team, quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Marcus Mariota is now number 7 in the NFL in passer rating with a 99.6.
We have seen signs over the course of the season of the player Mariota could become. In week 2 against Detroit he seemed to will the Titans down the field to a win in the closing seconds. Against the Dolphins in week 5 he made the defense look like it was standing still. Still, like any young signal-caller, he has had his ups and downs. His miscues in all five of the Titans losses directly led to the negative outcomes of those games. His mistakes tend to be big ones and they seem to happen in the tight moments of the game.
But when he is on, which is way more often than not this season, he looks special. On Sunday, in a game that was crucial for both of these teams, Mariota was nearly flawless. He led the Titans to touchdowns on their first five possessions of the game, an unbelievable way to start the game that put the Packers in a hole that was impossible for them to dig out of. His athleticism, pinpoint accuracy, and loyalty to the playbook of Mike Mularkey allowed Mariota to surgically dismantle Green Bay. (Side note: Remember when we were all worried about Mularkey and OC Terry Robiskie ruining Marcus? The opposite has happened. They have designed an offense perfectly suited to his abilities.) He had another 4-touchdown game, a historical stat in that no player in league history has had more in their first 22 games.
Sure, it is easier for Mariota to play well with one of the league's top offensive lines and rushing attacks to fall back on. But Mariota has been golden at times this year and leads many across the league to believe that Tennessee has found a golden ticket at the crucial quarterback position.
It's starting to feel like Marcus Mariota is making a star turn in the back half of the season, simply playing better earlier in his career we could have imagined. Many (myself included) thought the Titans were a year away from playoff contention because of the youth of the roster. A Mariota-led Titans team is starting to give all of us a chance to dream a year early.
How far can Marcus Mariota take the Titans in 2016?
The opening week of the season is upon us and I thought it would be nice to do a game-by-game season preview of the upcoming Titans season.
Week 1 - Home vs. Vikings
With Teddy Bridgewater out for the year, this game becomes much more winnable for the Titans. It almost feels like its a trap, but I'm going to say they pull this one out while Sam Bradford becomes more comfortable with the Vikings' system. It's still possible Shaun Hill gets the start, but he doesn't scare me too much. I'm much more concerned with the Minnesota defense, but I think the DeMarco Murray/Derrick Henry combo does just enough to pull out game 1
Titans 24 - Vikings 22 (Record 1-0)
Week 2 - Away vs. Lions
Winning on the road with a young team is never easy and the Titans only pulled it off twice last season. That being said, Detroit is not very good and the Titans have the potential to steal this one on the road. In the end though, I think the strength of the Lions (passing game) is a bad matchup for the Titans weak secondary.
Lions 31 - Titans 24 (Record 1-1)
Week 3 - Home vs. Raiders
A home game against one of the offseason buzz teams is a tasty matchup for Tennessee fans. The Raiders are a step ahead of the Titans in their rebuilding process and offer a nice view of what the Titans could become in the future. I think the Raiders are playoff-bound and this is a game they will need to win to get there.
Raiders 24 - Titans 16 (Record 1-2)
Week 4 - Away vs. Texans
The thought of Brock Osweiler doesn't scare me, but J.J. Watt and a reborn Jadevion Clowney certainly do. The Titans haven't won in Houston since 2012 and they aren't ready to do it this year. Houston rolls the Titans and #TitansTwitter starts to sweat.
Texans 27 - Titans 10 (Record 1-3)
Week 5 - Away vs. Dolphins
With the season on the brink, the Titans head to Miami and put it on the Dolphins. Mariota has his best game of the season, throwing for 4 TDs and the defense shines.
Titans 38 - Dolphins 13 (Record 2-3)
Week 6 - Home vs. Browns
I fully expect the Browns to have the #1 pick in the 2017 draft, so I fully expect the Titans to dominate this game. But this time, its rookie Derrick Henry who steals the show (and possibly the RB1 spot).
Titans 34 - Browns 10 (Record 3-3)
Week 7 - Home vs. Colts
I've thought the Colts have been overrated for years. Outside of Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton, there isn't really a whole lot of star power on their roster. I honestly believe the Titans are better on paper and they with their third in a row this week.
Titans 17 - Colts 14 (Record 4-3)
Week 8 - Home vs. Jaguars
With a buzz around the league and a nationally televised audience watching on Thursday night, the Titans come into this game with a ton of mojo. Unfortunately a Ryan Succop missed FG with time running out takes the wind out of the sails and the Titans go back to .500.
Jaguars 24 - Titans 22 (Record 4-4)
Week 9 - Away vs. Chargers
Philip Rivers, a true gamer, steals one for the Chargers here with 4 TDs against the still-suspect Titans' secondary. The Titans drift back into losing territory. Mariota is hurt and declared out for the next 2 games.
Chargers 31 - Titans 24 (Record 4-5)
Week 10 - Home vs. Packers
Aaron Rodgers torches the defense and Titans fans are already deciding what cornerback they like the most with the top 3 pick they will receive from the Rams in the draft. Easy win for the Packers here.
Packers 35 - Titans 13 (Record 4-6)
Week 11 - Away vs. Colts
Despite being the better team, the Titans roll into Indianapolis a battered and beaten team after their 3 game losing streak. Matt Cassell gives a valiant effort, but the Colts stack the box and the Titans run game is stuffed.
Colts 27 - Titans 17 (Record 4-7)
Week 12 - Away vs. Titans
Marcus Mariota returns and so does the offense. The Titans offense is better suited for the Chicago weather than the Bears own offense, and Tennessee steals one on the road.
Titans 22 - Bears 21 (Record 5-7)
Week 13 - BYE
Week 14 - Home vs. Broncos
With Paxton Lynch now having taken over the QB role for the Broncos in a Super Bowl hangover season, the Titans take advantage and intercept the rookie 3 times. Mariota is back at full strength and the Murray/Henry hits 1,500 yards combined on the season.
Titans 17 - Broncos 10 (Record 6-7)
Week 15 - Away vs. Chiefs
Kansas City is fighting for the AFC West lead and they demoralize the Titans in front of a loud and boisterous crowd. Mariota is hurt again, but only misses the second half of this game. Chiefs win big.
Chiefs 28 - Titans 10 (Record 6-8)
Week 16 - Away vs. Jaguars
The Jags, fighting with the Texans for control of the AFC South race, need this game badly. But the Titans, who get Mariota back, spoil their fun. Succop hits the game winner, getting revenge for his October miss.
Titans 20 - Jaguars 17 (Record 7-8)
Week 17 - Home vs. Texans
The Texans, still in a dogfight with the Jags for the division title and playoff birth, get a big game from DeAndre Hopkins and sweep the season series with the Titans.
Texans 24 - Titans 10 (FINAL RECORD 7-9)
7-9. I'd take that. It's a big improvement over 3-13 from a year ago, plus the Titans gain a top 3 pick from the Rams and the will have their own mid-1st round pick. The franchise is looking up, and one more elite talent infusion in the draft should get them over the hump.
As my brother Mike (@stewartGSOT) and I were taking our first steps into the Titans fanbase a few months ago, one of our goals was to find some great Titans fans on twitter to talk with. One of the first we connected with was James Nissen, aka @jneezy0927. James has provided us with some great insight on the Titans franchise, as he has followed the team even when they were based in Houston as the Oilers. He was nice enough to take some time to answer a few questions about the franchise, team, and gameday experience in Nashville.
How long have you been a Titans fan? I've been a die hard Oilers/Titans fan since age 11 (age 43 in Sept). I was born in Toronto, Canada in 1973, so of course I grew up with the CFL. My grandparents lived in central Illinois and we often traveled as youth during holidays and summers to visit. My grandfather was a Bears fan of course, and since there was no NFL Sunday Ticket or other media sources to follow.....well, it was the Bears games we watched during our visits. We moved to Illinois in the summer of 1980. In November of that year and the weekend before Thanksgiving if I recollect, the Oilers were playing the Bears. Earl Campbell rushed for over 200 yards. Well, I decided that the Oilers would be my American football team at 7 years old. Another 4 years had passed and it was hard to follow the Oilers. You mostly had just newspaper clippings or if we got lucky on the 10 pm news a quick highlight if they were playing the Packers or Bears.....but in 1984, it happened. Warren Moon signed with the Houston Oilers. It was destiny! The rest is history....I lived and died following the Run 'n Shoot....Moon, Jeffires, Givens, Duncan, Slaughter, Lorenzo White.....list goes on. Who can forget the offensive lines anchored by HOFs Matthews and Munchak? I cried as a 20 year old in 1993 when the Oilers left Houston....I left with them. I cried again as I sat 3 rows from the top of the Georgia Dome on January 31st, 2000. I met my wife in 1998 - we got married on 9-27-01....in a park.....on a Thursday afternoon just so we could secure that date. McNair, George and Moon - it was destiny all along!
Earl Campbell played a big role in James' decision to become a Titans fan.
I was a founding PSL owner and STH in 1999-2000 and had season tickets through 2004. Due to change in employment, I sold my PSL and tickets.....however, I got on the waiting list for future consideration and in 2010 became a PSL owner and STH once again. I live in Groveland, IL, a small town outside of Peoria. As a long-time Titans fan, what has been your reaction to the number of St. Louis fans who have converted to the Titans after the Rams left us in January? I have couple of thoughts here. The Oilers were never a ‘hometown’ team for me as I am not from Houston, but I can imagine the feeling those fans felt was similar to those in St. Louis now. Probably leads to another question of how I became an Oilers/Titans fan, but we can ‘blog’ about that later. I chose to follow the team to Tennessee…………..it really wasn’t a difficult decision for me, but I understand why those who chose not to did and had no issue with that. That said, I also understood that I had to be ok with those fans who chose to follow another team (i.e. Cowboys, Saints, etc) and those who decided to just wait until Houston got another team. With that, when I heard/saw through social media that a group of fans became to form in St. Louis, my initial and current state is one of excitement! I say, #TitanUp and let’s have some fun!! As a long-time STH who lives in Central IL, you don’t see a lot of Two-Tone Blue around. Additionally, it’s been a tough go over the last few years, making the 6.5 hour trek south on Sunday only to see the stadium ½ to ¾ full of opposing fans. That said, a winning culture off the field and wins on the field can quickly turn that tide. I long to see that ‘sea’ of blue again at NISSAN Stadium and to feel the stadium shaking beneath my feet! If that means expanding our fan base by welcoming new fans – well, isn’t that what we should have been doing all along? It has been exciting to see the Tennessee Titans organization reach out to the St. Louis fans and embrace this and welcome you to the Titans Family! To that point, I am loving everything I am seeing that is happening in this space currently – I believe Amy Adams-Strunk, Jon Robinson, and Mike Mularkey are taking tangible actions to change the culture of Tennessee Titans from the inside out. It’s been a long-time coming and I'm looking forward to seeing their vision come to fruition! If they WIN, we all WIN! As a fan, I will continue to do my part in welcoming you all to the Titan Family and hope you all continue to see that this fall from other fans and for many years to come!! Why not………we already share a bond – SUPERBOWL XXXIV! Different views of how that day ended, but a shared memory nonetheless.
Super Bowl 34 - A pivotal moment for both franchises
What should fans expect on gamedays at Nissan Stadium? That’s a great question, because in some aspects it will be new for all of us this year as changes continue to be made from the fan experience perspective (i.e. stadium upgrades, concessions, etc.). That said, expect good ole' fashioned Southern Hospitality! Plan to start early with your tailgate and save some time to walk around the stadium and take in others. You’ll be surprised at home many folks will just welcome you in to partake as you just walk by. If you are looking to stay/park downtown, you’ll enjoy the amazing views early morning as you walk across the pedestrian bridge that spans the Cumberland River. Nothing like the smell and sights of Sunday morning bbqs going, with NISSAN Stadium nestled up against the riverfront as the backdrop. The environment (excitement level) inside the stadium – well, bottom line………..that always comes with winning! There is always renewed excitement each season, but now that we have this train headed back in the right direction and the pieces are starting to fall in place, I expect the ‘good ole days’ not as far off in the distance as some outsiders my believe. Of course, that is my Columbia Blue glasses view.
Nissan Stadium, nestled along the banks of the Cumberland River in downtown Nashville
What spots in Nashville would you recommend for fans coming down for games this season? Any "can't miss" bars or areas to hit on Saturday nights? Earlier, when mentioning Nissan Stadium’s proximity to downtown Nashville, I was referring to 2nd and Broadway, the most iconic street(s) in the city - full of honky tonk bars, live music and restaurants. Some of my favorites: Honkey Tonk Central on Broadway; If you like to ‘people watch’ this is the place. HTC is a, weather permitting, open air 3 level bar – live music on each level. Usually is packed on Friday/Saturday evening……..as is most of the Nashville Scene. Stand on the balcony, enjoy a cold adult beverage, the company of your friends from home and Nashville…….and of course, ‘watch’ away. Wannabe’s Karaoke Bar: This isn’t your ‘run of the mill’ karaoke joint – these folks can SING! …..and of course, if you want to put your personal talents to the test……no one will stop you! This is always good fun later in the evening. If you are looking for a sports bar, Bailey’s on Broadway is your place! Can also grab a bite to eat here to catch your favorite college football team play on Saturday afternoon or evening also. Pre and post-game, it’s packed with football fans. If you’re not in the mood for the crowds of Broadway, head down to lower Broadway and up 2nd Avenue. The brick paved sidewalks give this block a very nostalgic feel, along with the street performers. You can hit up the legendary Wild Horse Saloon for a live show and dinner, or BB Kings for some more great music! ….and don’t forget to look at the Preds schedule if coming later in the season. They may have a home Friday or Saturday game. You don’t want to miss the action in Bridgestone Arena! Maybe you’ll get lucky as St. Louis fans and you’ll get to see your Blues and Titans in the same weekend!
The nightlife in Nashville is second to none.
What do you expect to see from the Titans this season? One word: IMPROVEMENT That said, I always tell my friends that I’m an optimistic realist! I think this team is capable of winning 5-8 games this year depending how things develop and how quickly the team ‘buys in’ and gels. The ‘reality’ is, we could very well win only 2-4 games and Mularkey doesn’t return in 2017. I also, as mentioned earlier, expect to see the changes in culture carry over onto the field. I’ll be watching to see how this team acts and reacts with regards to adversity, pre/post-game interviews, practice, etc.. This team reminds me a lot of what we went through in ’94 (2-14), then the jump in ’95 (7-9), the run of 8-8’s, and then the RUN! The building blocks are there……….including the pillar, Mariota. If we can continue to build around him, the sky is the limit for this team. Bottom line: I expect to see improvement in this team on and off the field. That doesn’t mean it automatically translates into wins. But, I won’t settle for just being ‘competitive’ in a few games. I expect improvement from now until January with the arrow clearly pointing upward as we head into next offseason.
The success of the franchise is in the hands of Marcus Mariota
Finally, do you think combination of GM Jon Robinson and HC Mike Mularkey has what it takes to turn the Titans franchise around? I’ll address each separately, and also include Amy Adams Strunk because I feel what she has done is worth mentioning as well. Owner Amy Adams-Strunk: Amy’s involvement has been a pleasant surprise this offseason, and while her visibility/role was questioned by the fan base (including myself) throughout the year last season we’ve come to find out that just wasn’t true. She was engaged, but what I like now is that she is making a conscious effort to insure she is a ‘highly’ visible and engage owner. This is key for both the fan base and the NFL to see. That said, I hope this vision is not ‘Fools Gold’ either. <enter optimist/realist>. I love that she recognized the need for a culture change. Unfortunately, as fans, we also associate that with a full house cleaning, leading to our disappointment that Mularkey was retained. I’ll come back to that. At any rate, I felt Strunk was worth mentioning here – remember, she is the link to Jon Robinson – the only GM Candidate to support her decision to retain Mularkey. No Mike Mularkey, we most likely don’t end up with Jon whom we all agree to this point has been a HOME RUN hire. GM Jon Robinson: Really, what can you say here other than Strunk got it right. Give credit where credit is due. From the moment Robinson arrived in Nashville he has embodied everything you would want to see from a leader. He has demonstrated a strong understanding of the business, his football IQ is off the charts, he's engaging to the fan base, he’s been visible, and he can switch from just ‘one of the guys’ around players to GM of Tennessee Titans at an owner’s meeting simply by walking into a phone booth. At this point, I have zero doubt that Robinson is the guy to lead us through this change in belief and attitude, and turn us into the ONE TEAM, ONE GOAL – Championship Organization that we all want! That said, it’s going to take an extreme level of patience from us as a fan base. There will be some bumps, but I believe he can turn this around quickly – we are seeing small pieces of that each passing day. HC Mike Mularkey: There is a reason they brought the coach back, and in my opinion one of the keys to successful franchises/organizations (ie. Patriots, Steelers, Packers, etc) is stability and continuity within the leadership base. ONE TEAM, ONE GOAL………….but more importantly ONE VISION. Everyone, walking lock step towards that goal – everyone playing a role. Do I think Mike is ‘the guy’? Eh, I don’t know and I’d certainly stop short of saying he is at this point until we see winning results. I’m also not a big believer is looking at ‘track records’ when it comes to head coaches in football. If that’s the case, then why did New England hire Belichick….or what was Seattle thinking when they hired Carroll? Here’s what I do know: GREAT Coaches do not win without GREAT Players in the NFL. You CAN win in the NFL with GREAT players and a good coach. BAD players can result in a GREAT head coach getting fired. So, can we win with MM as the head coach? If we continue to draft well (Jon Robinson), build around Mariota (Jon Robinson) and use free agency only as an avenue to feel a couple holes (Jon Robinson)…..then I say, yes we can win with Mularkey as HC!
Is Mike Mularkey the man for the job?
A big thanks to James for taking the time out to answer these questions. I would highly advise all Titans fans to follow him on Twitter at @jneezy0927. #TitanUp